My First Commision - What do I charge?

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Blog entry by Don posted 07-23-2007 11:55 PM 2184 reads 1 time favorited 40 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Seldom does a week go by that I don’t have a request from a friend to make them something out of wood. My stock reply is that I am not in woodworking to make it a business.

Some of these requests come as a result of a couple of web sites (this one included) where my work is shown. Although, I must admit, I have no idea how they actually connect with me – I don’t show any contact info.

However, most of the requests come from people that know me, or have been referred to me by people that I know. This past weekend I was asked by a friend to make a small jewelry box. I just love small wooden boxes, so the opportunity to make another one is always a big temptation. I was specifically asked to make one of these, but knowing the time involved and the intricacy of the construction, I said that I wouldn’t make one as elaborate as that.

It isn’t that I wouldn’t enjoy the process, and likely, I would make changes to the design as I did so because I’ve never made the same box twice – there are always some design details that I change. My unspoken concern was the matter of price. How could I ever charge her a mutually fair price. To my way of thinking, this box should fetch around $1200. I was afraid this would alienate my friend – so we never even discussed the price.

Never-the-less, she persisted by responding that there were other boxes she had seen of mine and then asked if I would make the one shown below.

Without me really knowing why, the conversation developed to the point that I agreed to make it. She said that she wasn’t worried about the cost, she just wanted one of my boxes – I’ll confess, it was an ego booster.

But, she’s a good friend. My dear departed father-in-law, once advised me never to do business with friends; it was good advice that I’ve always heeded in the past.

So here’s my question – what do I charge my friend – what’s a fair price – what is this box actually worth? I’ll let you know what we agreed upon after I’ve received your feedback.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

40 comments so far

View Kaleo's profile


201 posts in 4162 days

#1 posted 07-24-2007 12:11 AM


This is always a good topic. The problem is that we as woodworkers tend not to value what we do correctly. If you think that the box is worth 1200.00, then you should ask what you think it’s worth. But I would consider the design changes that you plan to make, because these could change the amount of time involved which should change the price. Look at some boxes at the galleries around you, they will tell you what the market can bare. But my guess would be at least 1000.00. Work out how long it is going to take you to make. Then take the cost of materials out of your asking price and then figure out what you are making an hour. I would say that a maker of your skills should be getting at least 40-50 dollars an hour. I hope this helps mate.

-- Kaleo ,

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4200 days

#2 posted 07-24-2007 12:22 AM

Kaleo, thanks for your comment and complement.

The points you raise are all good commercial considerations. However, this is not a business for me. So my costs, and the time it takes to make it are somewhat irrelevant.

My main concern is the perceived fairness of the price. This relates to your point “what the market can bear”. I want to place a value on the box that honors my work and represents fair value to my friend.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Lar's profile


70 posts in 3989 days

#3 posted 07-24-2007 12:57 AM

You shouldn’t feel bad with any arrangement of charging $50/hour plus the cost of materials. This is how I handled a commission for a friend recently to build a zebrawood coffee table. Her response was to have me put a cap on the hours for that rate, and design it accordingly. We agreed on 16 hours, which turned out to be 18.25, so I donated 2.25 to the friendship. I also donated the trip to the lumberyard and the expertise to choose the material efficiently, so that there was less than .25 board feet left over from her $225 investment in zebrawood.

Or, if your friend is interested, why not barter the value?

View TomFran's profile


2957 posts in 4017 days

#4 posted 07-24-2007 12:57 AM

Unless you just enjoy woodworking and money is not an issue, charge what would be a fair market value for your work. Otherwise you will be working for nothing or at least not what you’re worth, and that will detract from the “fun factor” of doing the job. I have always hated it when I under bid a job, and realized I had short changed myself.

If your friend really wants the box and can afford those kind of luxuries, don’t worry about how much you charge her. Friends should not expect us to give our talents for free or for substantially less than what it’s worth. Besides some people who like expensive things actually like to pay large amounts of money for them, so they can brag about it later.

Even the Bible has something to say on this issue: ”...the laborer is worthy of his hire.” Luke 10:7).

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4334 days

#5 posted 07-24-2007 01:12 AM

Don, I always shy away from selling my work because, to be honest, I feel it is worth more than anyone would pay for it. The cherry gavel and block I made was donated. The recipient of the gavel was very pleased with it. My boss asked me if I sell my work and I told him that I hadn’t had anyone wanting to buy it, that I knew of. The point is this…What do you think would be a fair price for it? I would say, $150.00, but I know most people would think…it isn’t that much wood, why so high? I believe that my skills are worth something, as are yours and the design was mine, too. But then again…what is it worth and what would be considered fair? It took me about 2 to 3 hours to turn and assemble and another week of putting on finish, letting it dry, sanding and reapplying more finish.

If she is a real friend, she will know what your talents and time is worth. I believe the one you need to be fairest to is yourself, because if you are not, you will be devaluing your work from here on out. Anyone else wanting a beautiful box of yours will expect to pay no more than she did.

I wish you the best in your endeavor to please your friend and yourself.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4002 days

#6 posted 07-24-2007 01:30 AM

Hi Don;

You are correct in saying you are this is not a business for you. But, I feel your mistaken in thinking your time and costs aren’t relevent, or somehow less important.

1. Your work is EQUALL to that of many professionals, myself included.

2. You have a certain amount of hours to spend on this earth, so they are all important.

3. Regarding perceived value, that is, and can only be answered by the buyer. You have no control over that.

With those three statements in mind, I would explain the delemia to the buyer. Point out that you don’t want to cheat either them or yourself. Tell the person requesting the item how much time it takes to create something like this. Explain that this is not production work, it is highly customized.

Then ask the client, how much they would like to pay for it, based on your time and materials.

You will quickly learn if this is a person YOU want to deal with, based on their perception of your value.

It they feel you should create something for them at a low price, their respect for your time is lacking, and personally, I wouldn’t do it.

I have no problem telling a client that I’m not interested in a project if the vibes aren’t right, or the respect level I demand is missing, or they under value my time left here.

Hope this helps Don, as this is something I deal with everyday.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4183 days

#7 posted 07-24-2007 01:35 AM

what about asking her what she expects to pay and say that you will create a box accordingly.
Since she’s a friend, she should be open to hearing your concern about wanting to be fair to her but also to yourself and your skill level… tell her that you don’t want to ruin a friendship over this so clarify any misconceptions and surprises before you start.

yah.. business with a friend.. tricky business.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 4044 days

#8 posted 07-24-2007 01:39 AM

If she is your friend give it to her.

If she is not, charge $1200.00.

p,s, you are lucky in life if you make 3 true friends.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4200 days

#9 posted 07-24-2007 02:13 AM

Well, there you have it – you’ve collectively summed up my anxiety in the these comments.

I do value my time. I think my boxes are well made artistic creations that require the skills that I’ve honed over the years.

I’m not interested in being reduced to making something to a price point. That runs against my creative/artistic inclination.

When I’ve attempted to make comparisons with similar boxes, I see junk selling for more and sometimes, well made boxes selling for less – obviously I’m not the only one having difficulty putting a reasonable price on their work.

But then Bob comes along and sums up the dilemma – “if she’s your friend – give it to her, if she’s not charge her $1200.”

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View 's profile

593 posts in 3995 days

#10 posted 07-24-2007 02:25 AM

Decisions, decisions…

Tough dilemma you have Don. I agree with most of the comments above. I think you should charge the stated minimum amount of $50+materials and then, if you feel like -and only if- you can shave some of these costs as a gift to your friendship.

I know that you don’t intend to make money on this or wiew it as a business but in one of the earlier ‘Woodtalk Online” podcasts Marc & Matt discuss this very same topic. Perhaps it could be useful to listen to it again.

To me, the dangers you face are that she would be so pleased with the end result that:

a) It could lead to more orders. What would be yuour position then? You can’t walk on this fine line forever without compromising the friendship.

b) Some of her friends will see the box at the next BBQ she holds and you could be asked to do more commisions. If she says that you charged her next to nothing you’d be putting yourself in a position where you underate your time and can’t ask a fair price and/or shall decline to to the job. This is no good.

Even if you see this as a hobby. What wold be nicer than one of her friends asking you to do a piece with complete freedom of design and not having to worry about paying for it?

In any event, fix an end price or a capped maximum before even buying the wood. Remember: your friendship is at stake and nothing is more valuable than that.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4337 days

#11 posted 07-24-2007 02:28 AM

I had a buddy ask me to make one of my alder sofa table for a freind of his. Sure I say $150.00…You’ve got to be kidding, he said. He felt cheated and I was a bit offended…go figure.

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4260 days

#12 posted 07-24-2007 03:24 AM

A worker is worthy his hire… Jesus said so. Build it for her, and let her determine the price. You expect nothing and when you get more than that you’ve all been blessed.

When you let them determine the price it says a lot

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1809 posts in 4109 days

#13 posted 07-24-2007 03:38 AM

Bob has it…I don’t sell to friends or family. If I’m asked to make something by a friend I look to see if it can fit in my schedule. If I can make the time then it happens…..when it happens….... It may be 6 months but hey…its free.
The slippery slope comes when the person is less than a friend. Someone you know well, but to whom you feel uncomfortable giving the price you feel its worth. Then like Dennis says…they feel cheated and you feel offended.

-- Bob

View DocK16's profile


1184 posts in 4110 days

#14 posted 07-24-2007 03:55 AM

First, congradulations on your first comissioned piece. But I think you’ve gotten yourself in a bit of a pickle. Kinda like selling your old car to a friend, do you want her to remain a friend? Your work is certainly quality work and unique to each piece. I would not leave the price up to her, most people have no idea what an item like this is worth. They see wooden boxes from Taiwan in Walmart for < $20 and base their idea of fair price by this, not their fault (they know not what they do). Most of us are in this for the pure enjoyment, but shops/tools aren’t cheap and your skill and expertise certainly took time to develop and the piece looks to involve many hours work. Whatever the price, it should be agreed on first, or at least some range, that way each knows what is expected and there are no surprises. Even with this though the friendship might still take a beating.

-- Common sense is so rare anymore when you do see it, it looks like pure genius.

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4200 days

#15 posted 07-24-2007 04:02 AM

Oh me – oh my!

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

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